(Note: this blog doesn’t have a resolution/happy ending, it’s just a piece I want to share)
This piece is long overdue but I feel like I needed to get it off of my chest since it’s been wreaking havoc on me for quite a while now. About 14 months ago, I went to sleep one night and woke up not being able to move or breathe properly. Sounds crazy but yeah. I was in bed and I ‘woke up’ (kinda), not being able to wake myself up. I don’t know how long it took me to regain my senses but once I did, I cried for about 2 hours, scared out of my mind as to what had just happened. I wasn’t sure if it was just a very realistic dream or whether I truly couldn’t move but either way it was terrifying. I spoke to some friends about it and convinced myself it was a very bad dream and resumed life as normal.
The same thing happened a couple nights later. And again. And again. And progressively, it became a regular occurrence that I would fall asleep and wake up not being able to move and barely being able to breathe. I went to the doctor (as you do) and they said it was sleep paralysis which I’d heard of before but only briefly. They believed stress and anxiety were the reasons behind it which I didn’t doubt. Relationships, education, job stress and other drama in life were happening at the time and I assumed it was all just getting the better of me. But as it got to April/May, I found that I was growing increasingly restless due to my fear of sleep paralysis. I thought in order to prevent the paralysis from happening, I just shouldn’t sleep. Of course, that didn’t work out though as most of us cannot function without sleep. Time rumbled on with no improvement and upon advice from a few friends, I went to see a counsellor.
From June 2016 – February 2017, I saw this counsellor weekly to discuss life and problems and after explaining my life story to her, *cringe* we (kinda) figured out the trigger as to why I was getting this paralysis (not ready to disclose the reason yet but maybe another time). She taught me some coping mechanisms on how to get by but we soon both realised that we were out of our depth when it came to this. Sleep paralysis in itself is not that widely known in the medical/psychological field. It’s not seen as serious or life-threatening since it is technically a temporary state, but the ordeal in itself is very frightening and sets me off-kilter every time I experience it. It got to a point, I awoke in cold sweats and would force myself out of the house (no matter the time) to prevent myself from sleeping. If I ever did become exhausted and found myself in bed, I would move around constantly (still do) to keep from sleeping to prevent the paralysis. I try to limit the amount of times I stay over at friends’ houses to prevent them from seeing me in that state – I’ve been told being in unfamiliar surroundings can aggravate it and I’m not trying to make it any worse.
Just to give a quick rundown of what I experience during an episode: typically, I fall asleep (usually against my own will) and some time, during this episode, I ‘awake’ and my mind switches on. I put awake in apostrophes because I am alert only in the mind, everything else is asleep. My entire body is asleep and there is the feeling of being smothered: there is a pressure on my chest and I cannot breathe easily. I describe it as being ‘locked in’ because there is no control over my body whatsoever and that is the scariest thing. I can see (kinda) but cannot physically move. It’s a feeling I don’t wish on anyone. At first it was brief, meaning I would come out of this state reasonably quickly. But lately, I’ve become aware of the state and have tried to ‘fight’ it, which in some ways, has made it worse. My breathing becomes more laboured as I ‘fight’ it which causes further distress and exhaustion. The transition of emerging from the paralysis and waking up is always a blur and I am yet to ascertain what goes on in this period. But then again, I’m not sure I want to.
I’ve always been one to experience hyper-realistic dreams. So realistic, I often cannot distinguish them from reality and believe they happened in real life. Most of the time they are nightmares. Some nights, I don’t remember my dreams at all. Sleep has become a profound struggle for me lately to the point where I hate it and it doesn’t rejuvenate me.
In terms of the help I’ve received, it is sparse. I’ve been advised that I can take sleeping pills but I’ve declined. Sleeping is not the problem for me, the paralysis is. I’ve also been told it may be a spiritual thing which I don’t disbelieve. It’s just unnerving that no matter how many times I try to ‘pray it away,’ still nothing happens. The fact I have to deal with it on an almost-daily basis is horrifying to say the least and it is very hard for me to explain/articulate to people (hence I’m writing this post). It’s gotten to the point people will message me at ALL times of the day because they know I’ll be awake which I think is kinda sad (lol). The fact it’s one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever endured doesn’t help. It’s so disabling I’ve quit my job, missed classes and major milestone events (birthday, get-togethers, meetings, events) as a result. When I am able to make it to these things, I am always high-strung (on tea/energy drinks) as a result of having not slept for a day or two in order to make it and not sleep through it.
The only times I am able to sleep ‘well’ is when I am on a long journey on a coach. As a result of travelling so much, I am familiar with coaches so I find that I am not in a panic mode when I wake up. I tend to schedule late night/early morning coaches when it is still dark to give me the illusion that I am in bed. I rarely get paralysis on these journeys and if I do, I don’t get the feeling I’m going to die like in other instances. The state of paralysis passes by pretty quickly. I’m quite conscious of how I look during paralysis but I’ve come to find that the feeling of kicking and screaming during these episodes is in my mind and I am not physically moving (which is the frustration).
I hope to see more scientific research on sleep paralysis as it’s mostly just personal accounts I’ve heard of/seen and they are self-induced cases whereas my episodes are involuntary and regular so it’s not always the greatest comparison. Nonetheless, I hope I will get over this obstacle one day. Because I’ve been dealing with this for over a year now, it has become something I am used to (unfortunately) but I don’t want to experience it forever.
Sleep is more a personal experience than anything, but at this point, I feel like sharing my account of sleep paralysis alleviates some of the burden and hopefully it can help someone else feel less alone if they are experiencing the same.
For more information on sleep paralysis, click below: